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Friday, April 26, 2013

10 of the worst examples of management-speak

In my Web browsing for blogs, articles and websites about writing, I come across various lists that describe at least 10 words and phrases that the authors think must be eliminated from daily use in offices and publications of business, government, health care, marketing, education, the news media, and other fields. Those words and terms must be eliminated, the authors write, because they're unclear or misleading or jargon or cliches or pompous or bureaucratic or whatever negative adjective the authors apply to their lists.

Although I might not agree that particular words or terms deserve to be in a Top 10 list, I usually agree that writers and editors should consider alternative words and terms that could be more powerful and meaningful to readers. The last six words in the previous sentence are key; the choice is not just about using particular words and terms.

Writers must choose words and terms that will be most effective in capturing the attention and keeping the interest of the expected or desired readers. And they must choose words and terms that can get those readers to respond in the desired way of the writers and their publication or organization.

So, I think reading or skimming all those blogs, articles and websites listing questionable words and phrases is worthwhile. Though I don't list my Top 10, I also provide various lists in Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. It breaks words and terms into these categories:
  • Shorter, simpler words
  • Wordy phrase replacements
  • Redundant phrase replacements.
A recent article with the title of this blog post--"10 of the worst examples of management-speak"--prompted my blog comments today. That article, by Steven Poole in The Guardian, discusses the words below. I list of few of them at Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual:
  • Going forward. It means "from now on" or "in [the] future," Poole writes. Why not use one of those terms instead?
  • Drill down. Why not use look at in detail?
  • Action. Why not use a verb instead, like reply or fulfill or even do? Here's a related item in my style manual: 
act, action Often confused and overused. As nouns they overlap in meaning, but use action as the broader term about a process that includes several acts and act as a particular action or type of action. Also, simplify and try omitting actionprevention, not preventive actiondiscipline, not disciplinary action. In addition, act is a strong, clear and concise verb: The department acted on the complaint. She acted quickly after getting the work order. Simplify. Avoid using the bureaucratic take action. And better yet, describe the action: The department changed its hiring process after getting the complaint. She quickly repaired the transmission.
  • End of play. Might today be better?
  • Deliver (and deliverable). Could the most important ones be as meaningful as key deliverables? [My spellchecker, BTW, marks deliverables to be a misspelled word.]
  • Issues. Could problems be more accurate? From my style manual:
issue Overstated to mean a "problem or difficulty." Simplify. Use one of those words instead, and save issue for discussing a controversial topic or matter in dispute. That topic or matter is at issue, not in issue. You could also call it a dispute or a controversy.
  • Leverage ... as a verb. How 'bout using use or exploit instead of this  jargon? My style manual says:
leverage Business jargon used by financial consultants to increase their return on the time they're investing in you by making you feel indebted to them for their understanding of the jargon they're using. For everyday, clear use, influence is a powerful word.
  • Stakeholders. Are you writing about people, such as people who are affected by a certain project? Or, as my style manual says under people, persons
"Participants who need participants are the most wonderful participants in the world." "Members of the community who need members of the community are the most wonderful members of the community in the world." "Those who need those are the most wonderful those in the world." "Others who need others are the most wonderful others in the world." Try people instead!
  • Competencies. Abilities or skills, instead?
  • Sunset ... as a verb. Why not use cancel or kill?
You can get more advice on choosing effective words in this section of Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide

Poole's article is featured today, April 26, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free emails subscription. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Infographic: Techspeak Ruining Kids' Grammar | Does Texting Hurt Your Grammar?

Yikes! According to a study summarized graphically by
[T]he more students text, the more it may impact their grammar.
The infographic tries to answer these questions:
Does texting hurt your grammar? How does this happen and why does it matter?
This PC Magazine article explains that two Northwestern University researchers surveyed 228 sixth, seventh and eighth grade middle-school students along the U.S. East Coast and tested their association between text-message usage and the kids' scores on a grammar assessment. 

The study said:
Adolescents are active participants when engaging with text messaging technologies and perceive them to be useful and convenient. It is in this nearly constant engagement with the technology that adolescents encounter the grammatical adaptations of techspeak. ...
Although the freedom to use adaptations of language in text messages may make an adolescent perceive it to be a more useful medium for communication, results of this study show clearly that these adaptations are negatively related to an adolescent's grasp of standard English grammar.
Uh, speaking of techspeak, the report writers are sure into academicspeak. Still, their findings are worth considering ... and acting on. But how?

The PC Magazine article is featured today, April 23, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Plain language: The tricky aspects of gender-neutral language | When 'he or she' doesn't work

I'd say most people these days agree that using he, his, him and various terms built on man is an outdated, inaccurate and biased way to refer to everyone when the gender of the subject is unclear or variable. Those words, obviously not gender-neutral, unfairly represent a population that's about half male, half female.

And though sensitivity to this language usage has grown steadily during the past 40 years or so, replacing the masculine nouns and pronouns words can sometimes be difficult, at least for some people.

This blog post by Caryn Gootkin suggests alternatives to gender-specific pronouns that can make your writing more accurate, less offensive and plainer. I especially like what Gootkin says about "plainer" writing:

The principles of plain language suggest that we should use gender-neutral language to avoid offending half our audience.
As I note in Garbl's Plain-English Writing Guide:
Sexist writing builds a barrier between you and half your readers. Use sex-neutral terms by avoiding words that suggest maleness is the norm, superior or positive and that femaleness is nonstandard, subordinate or negative.
Gootkin's blog posts lists 10 tips on how to write without gender-specific pronouns. She writes:
I set out below various ways to implement this in your writing. You must decide which is best suited to your context. What sounds appropriate in one sentence may sound totally awkward in another.
Besides Gootkin's sugestions, here's additional advice from the sex, sexim entry in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual, with links to related terms:
sex, sexism Base communication on relevant qualities of men and women, not on their sex or sexual orientation. See gay, lesbiangender.
Avoid the outdated use of words that restrict meaning to males. Include all people in general references by substituting unbiased, asexual words and phrases: informal agreement for gentlemen's agreementhomemaker for housewifeemployees and their spouses for employees and their wives.
Here are other examples: hours worked, staff hours or working hours for man-hours; people, men and women, human beings, the human race, civilization or humanity for mankind; physical strength, resources, human effort, staff, workers or work force for manpower; artificial, synthetic, manufactured or handmade for manmade; and large, big, generous or formidable for man-sized. Also, think about using sewer access, pipeline opening, utility maintenance hole or utility access hole for manhole. See man.
Avoid using man or woman as a suffix or prefix in job titles: Substitute business executive, business leader or businessperson for businessman; worker, laborer or employee for workman; camera operator, videographer or cinematographer for cameraman; firefighter for fireman; letter carrier, mail carrier or postal worker for mailman; and sales representative, agent or clerk for salesman. Use generic titles or descriptions for both men and women. 
Avoid writing about woman managers, male secretaries, men's work, women's interests such as recipe swapping, sewing and fashion. See chairman, chairperson, chairwoman.
Reword sentences to drop unnecessary gender pronouns, especially the outdated generic he and his but also she and her. Here are some alternatives:
  • Try dropping use of any pronoun.
  • Substitute the articles a or the for the pronoun where suitable.
  • Use the plural pronouns they and their with plural nouns: Workers ... they. Not The worker ... he. Using plural pronouns with singular nouns is not, yet, widely accepted: The worker ... they. But see their, them, their.
  • Use he or she and his or hers--but don't overdo it. Alternate between using those phrases and other alternatives. See he or she, he/shehis, his/her.
  • Repeat the original noun or use synonyms for second references to nouns like the worker or workers. But don't overdo that either. Make sure it's clear to readers the synonyms refer to the same person or people.
  • Alternate male and female expressions and examples. This style manual uses examples involving both males and females.
Refer to women and men equally and consistently: Middle school teachers Larry Carson and Emily Johnson won the awards. Not: Middle school teachers Larry Carson and Mrs. Gus Johnson won the awards. See Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms..
Use parallel language when mentioning people by gender: Substitute husband and wife for man and wife, ladies and gentlemen for ladies and men (or gentlemen and ladies, for variety). Neither men nor women over the age of 18 are boys or girls. Usually, use woman and man as the noun and female and male as the adjective. See female, male.
Give equal respect to women and men. Do not describe men by mental qualities or professional position and, simultaneously, describe women by physical features. Only refer to appearance, charm, intuition or physical strength when relevant. 
Thanks to Nick Wright of Editor Software for highlighting Gootkin's article in the Plain Language Advocates group at LinkedIn. Gootkin's article is also featured today, April 23, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Five PR Lessons From ‘The Voice’

I'm not too proud to admit that we can learn good stuff about communications from unexpected sources, such as a TV program that's a talent show for many excellent singers, like "The Voice" and even "American Idol."

In this article, Diane Schwartz of the PR NewsBlog briefly describes five lessons. She writes:

At PR News, we find there’s a PR angle to every story, to every brand, to every situation. In the case of “The Voice,” I want to share a few take-aways for anyone who spends their day in communications and management.
I agree with how she describes lessons learned by watching The Voice:
  • Listen ...
  • Diversify ...
  • Encourage ...
  • Laugh ...
  • Be Real ....

A government must speak plainly to its people | U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley

As an advocate for clear, concise communication by our government--and by private and nonprofit organizations--I applaud these recent comments by U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa.

Here are some excerpts I especially appreciated: 
Confusing language is frustrating. But beyond our frustration are real consequences if we misunderstand government documents and regulations. Confusing language leads to mistakes that have dramatic consequences for our health, our safety, and our financial security. Think what might happen if we don't understand changes in our mortgages, or if we're confused by Medicare prescription drug information, or if we don't have enough income taxes withheld from our paycheck.
Confusing government language also places a huge financial burden on individuals, businesses, and taxpayers. When we don't understand the letter we got explaining that our interest rates are going up or telling us what our new healthcare plan covers, we pick up the phone and call the help center. It takes labor, money, and time to fix problems created when people are confused. ...
There's a lot of disagreement in Washington about the scope of government - whether certain regulations or even whole agencies should even exist. But regardless of where you fall on the partisan spectrum, I think we can all agree that if a government regulation, rule, form, or document exists, it should be written in language that can be understood by the intended audience.
Fortunately, there's a movement building among good government groups and concerned Americans to reform the way the government communicates with American citizens. ...
The next frontier for reform is the Plain Regulations Act, legislation that would expand plain writing requirements to federal rules and regulations. Federal regulations are often the worst violators of plain writing best practices. On Tax Day, April 15th, I re-introduced this legislation. I'm hopeful that momentum exists to pass this common-sense proposal into law this year.

For more information ...

... about plain English/plain language, concise writing and global English, check out the resources I've listed at this section of Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. 

Those resources include links to plain language websites of federal, state and local government agencies in the United States and other countries. They also include links to organizations advocating for plain language and other websites and books about plain language. 

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